By Christie L. Chicoine

CS&T Staff Writer

Students who dread taking the PSAT or SAT might want to consider their academic conquests dragons and themselves modern-day dragon-slayers.

So suggests Patricia Sisca Pace, a test preparation instructor and retreat director who has coached numerous Catholic school students across the Archdiocese through her program, “A Holistic Approach to Test Preparation.”

Through a variety of academic and spiritual seminars, workshops and retreats, Pace, an educator who holds a doctorate in psychology, assists students with their academic pursuits by promoting educational excellence, emotional readiness, physical preparedness and a spiritual awareness of one’s personal best.

Among Pace’s numerous pupils who attest to the success of her test-prep programs are Samantha Nichols, a junior at Archbishop Wood Catholic High School in Warminster, and Tam Nguyen, a senior psychology major at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and 2007 graduate of Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia.

Nichols, 16, a member of the National Honor Society, earned a near-perfect PSAT score of 236 out of 240. She credits the high score to her participation in Pace’s 25-hour SAT Academic and SAT retreat program last July at Archbishop Wood.

“I had expected my scores to improve, but I was really shocked, especially because I was sick on the test day,” Nichols said. “The program really helped me feel a lot more confident, to stand up to the test.”

A member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Glenside, Nichols said the program’s prayer component and concentration on trusting in God contributed to her higher marks.

Nichols took another of Pace’s test-prep programs, “Slaying the Dragons of Standardized Tests, High School Entrance Edition,” as a seventh-grader at Holy Martyrs School in Oreland.

In addition to stressing good study habits, Nichols said Pace reinforces the importance of getting adequate sleep on a regular basis and the necessity of maintaining a healthy diet.

Nguyen, whose home parish is St. Helena in the Olney section of Philadelphia, graduated from St. Helena School in 2003. He is scheduled to graduate from Yale in May with a degree in behavioral neuroscience.

“Dr. Pace’s SAT program was a Godsend,” said Nguyen, 21.

“Knowing that my SAT scores did not reflect my capabilities, Dr. Pace worked with me over the school year in the SAT retreat portion of her program. During the retreat sessions, (she) really helped me focus on attaining the best possible SAT score and she also played a vital role in giving me the confidence I needed to attack every SAT question.

“During the summer of my sophomore year, we met again to review test taking strategies and the results speak for themselves: I scored a 720 in critical reading and a 730 in writing, my two weakest subjects. Overall, I had a 300 point increase from my PSATs,” Nguyen said.

“In addition to this great point increase, I was accepted to all of my top choices, including Penn, Princeton, Yale and Harvard. I can’t imagine how this could all be possible without Dr. Pace’s guidance within the classroom and her inspiring words and support following the seminars.”

Pace, a parishioner of St. Cecelia in Northeast Philadelphia, said her primary goal is to help students reach their personal best on standardized tests and in the classroom by delivering academic excellence and bringing Catholic tradition and spiritual direction into test-prep and learning.

“The larger goal is to immerse students in the experience of God as an active partner in testing and learning environments and to connect those environments to their talent development,” she said.

In addition to books, DVDs and CDs, Pace has also produced flashcards for vocabulary and mathematics. The vocabulary set features 226 building flash cards with more than 1,118 words presented in a variety of formats to help learners and test-takers master words that Pace considers essential for critical thinking, reading and essay writing. The math cards assist in accelerating problem-solving speed and accuracy.

Mary Rochford, superintendent of schools of the Philadelphia Archdiocese, applauds Pace for her work with students. Although Pace is not contracted by the Office of Catholic Education, “since she does focus on the spirituality of test taking, it certainly fits in with our stance that God is found everywhere – yes, even in test taking moments,” Rochford said.

“She teaches the students how to keep their fears, apprehensions and nervousness in check so that it does not take over and therefore negatively affect the outcome of the actual test results.”

Pace, who is also a spiritual director and retreat director certified through the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, Pa., offers a range of other programs for all age groups. Among them: a learning skills program for middle school and junior high age students that applies psychology and spirituality to math, reading, essays and grammar.

For more information about Pace’s upcoming programs, visit; e-mail; or call 215-725-6568.

CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or